As I am reading the Bible I come across stories that make me go Hmmmm…
Genesis is full of them. Take for example this one right after the story of Noah and the Arc.
In Genesis 11 we read the story of the tower of Babel-the one in which people decide they’re going to build a tower that reaches to heavenS…
“4b ..let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
God’s reaction to all of this is pretty amazing really.
“6 If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
And then His plan of action is even more amazing… Or baffling.
“7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So what on earth is this all about? It is one of those stories from the Bible that when you take
it out of the context of what was going on it seems really bizarre. But for some reason the people telling us the story of this time in their lives believe we need to hear it.
Let’s see if we can sniff around this on either side and see if we can find some answers.
We’re pretty early in the Bible, but a lot has happened.
• Creation of everything
• Adam and Eve
• “The One Commandments” – Great Movie
• Cain and Abel
• Noah’s Arc
• The Tribes have begun to form
First, who built Babel? If we go back one chapter we read that
If we look back one chapter at Genesis 10 we learn about how the tribes came to be the “who’s who” of the old testament.
We learn about the sons of Ham. “The Hamites” One of Noah’s sons…
These are a “who’s who” of the most power. Egypt, Canaan, Cush, Philistines and then we run into a real Nimrod.
“8 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in[d] Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.”
What else do we know about Nimrod?
Well he is the mascot of Watersmeet H.S. in Michigan.
The name Nimrod comes from the Hebrew root word rebel. Interesting. Why does it matter?We seeing the birth of new nations and among them is Babylon. A very powerful and aggressive nation. Their leader is a man whose name literally means “rebellion”.
Are there any other details we may have missed in our earlier readings of this story? Why yes… Glad you asked. What was it exactly they said to each other about how they were building the tower?
“Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.”
They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
These details are huge. They used brick instead of stone. Have you tried to build something tall out of stone? Compared to brick it seems impossible. Why? Because stones are of all different shapes and sizes and they’re hard to stack on top of each other.
You can make bricks the same size, the same shape, you can make bricks to exact specifications for whatever it is you are trying to build. Like a tower.
If you’d been building things with stone, and then you started using bricks, can you imagine the reaction?
These bricks are amazing! They make all kinds of things possible that weren’t possible before. Just how big could we make something with these new bricks? But in the story it isn’t just bricks they’re building with, they’re also using tar for mortar. Mortar is like cement, helping the bricks stick together. What’s another name for these details about the brick and mortar?
This is a story about, among other things, technology. Someone invented something new-brick and mortar-which allowed people to make and do things they hadn’t been able to do before. And what does that have to do with Nimrod?
This is a story about what happens when a powerful warrior who’s building an empire gets his hands on new technology and begins to use it to set himself up as a god, crushing everybody and everything in his path. And what does that tell us about the world the author of this story was living in?
This was a new phenomenon. People were spreading and scattering and settling in new places and some were gaining more and more power and influence which affected everybody else. The story reflects a growing awareness and concern that there is a higher good for humanity than the strong dominating the weak, the powerful crushing the powerless, the proud raising themselves up to godlike status.
Imagine building little walls out of stone your entire life and then making a trip to Babel and seeing people starting work on a tower made of bricks. It may have been awe-inspiring, but we can also assume that it would have been terrifying. If somebody can do that, what else can they do? Or to put more of an edge on it what couldn’t they do?
What does this story tell us about what it means to be human? We have tremendous power and ability as humans. We can invent things and build things and dream things up and then make them. It’s extraordinary, and it’s to be celebrated and enjoyed.
• Mall of America
We also have the tremendous capacity to use our energies and minds and power and abilities to further our own purposes and greed and empire building at the expense of those around us, making the world less and less a peaceful home where everybody is thriving.
• The Rack
• The Gatling gun
• The atomic bomb
Is there more?
Yes. Perhaps the real power of the story is the haunting warning it brings that when we make it all about ourselves and our accumulation and our ego and our power and our desire to rule-when we become too full of ourselves, too obsessed with our own importance, too fixated on elevating ourselves to the top of the top of the tower we’re building.
Towers come in all shapes and sizes.
But God has endless, clever, and unexpected ways of scrambling our efforts, thwarting our plans, and sometimes even confusing our language so we…babel.
• Women – Men
• Democrats – Republicans
• Apple – Microsoft
For me so much of this comes back to a problem that started with our desire to be God.
Genesis 2 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
We have always wanted to have the power. But God has known all along that we don’t see the full picture.
We want the power but we don’t understand that end result.
Remember what it meant to look each other in the eye to be “friends”?
Remember what it meant to be snowed in?
Remember the Sabbath?
Adapted from Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible? Part 5” (http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/66692646455/what-is-the-bible-part-5 )